White Card Update: Advice for work at heights

The most common hazard on construction sites not only in Oz but around the world is working from heights and it is linked to the potential risk of slipping, tripping or falling.

In Australia the law requires that employers and contractors assess the risk from work at height and go on to organize and plan the work so it is carried out safely. The first priority should be to eliminate the hazard. This can be done by considering whether work from the ground is possible, if not assess the risk and develop and implement control measures to manage work from heights.

In other words if you cannot prevent work from a height, you must attempt to prevent or arrest a fall and injury if the work at a height is absolutely necessary.

Many members of the construction industry do not take this hazard seriously enough because it is so common for construction workers to have to work from heights that they can become complacent about managing the hazard, this is when accidents happen and even falls from relatively low heights can be fatal.

The most important issues to consider when undertaking a work from a height is to conduct a risk assessment, develop precautions needed to overcome the hazards and implement them by designing safe work method statements and training workers to control measures.

Work at height is the biggest single cause of fatal and serious injury in the construction industry and particularly so on smaller projects where the perceived fall injury doesn’t seem great, but as stated already even falls from a relatively low height can be debilitating or fatal.

The most common forms of work from heights include work from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms and roof edges and through fragile roofs or roof lights.

During the risk assessment, principal contractors, employers or those undertaking the business must assess the risks by deciding on the precautions required, recording significant findings and reviewing the assessment as necessary.

Some of the ways work from heights can be managed include:

  • Avoid work at height where it reasonably practicable to do so, e.g. by assembly at ground level
  • Prevent any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury e.g. by using a scaffold platform with double guard-rail and toe boards
  • Arrest a fall with equipment to minimize the distance and consequences of a fall, e.g. safety nets, where work at height cannot be avoided or the fall prevented.
  • Develop a method statement which is a useful way of recording the hazards involved in specific work at height tasks and communicating the risk and precautions required to all those involved in the work. The statement needn’t be longer than necessary to achieve these objectives effectively.
  • Equipment needed for safe working should be clearly identified and available before work starts. Workers should know what to do if the work method needs to be changed. Training of workers is vital to ensure they are aware of how to manage the hazard and the specific hazards presented by work on the site relating to heights. It is not good enough to have control measures in place, workers must be aware of them and utilise them to stay safe.